By Jeremy Walsh
Nearly two years after his wife’s dismembered body was found in a suitcase in Forest Park, a former Woodhaven man has been charged with her murder, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
Edwin Fuentes, 42, of Newark was arraigned Friday on charges of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence for allegedly murdering 42-year-old Reina Isabel de los Santos, cutting up her body and discarding it in a suitcase, Brown said.
“The defendant is accused of killing his wife and disposing of her body, leaving her two children without a mother,” Brown said in a statement. “He was able to evade justice for more than two years, but the diligence of police and prosecutors in pursuing this case means that he will now be held accountable for this crime.”
Fuentes, a former butcher, called 911 on June 22, 2007, to report the disappearance of his wife. An officer from the 102nd Precinct responding to the home on 88th Road said she noticed Fuentes was nervous and had scratches on both his arms as well as a bite mark on his left hand, the DA’s office said.
Fuentes allegedly told the officer the marks were from playing with his children and said he had last seen de los Santos June 19, the DA said.
Although de los Santos’ friends and relatives urged police to investigate her disappearance as a crime, it remained a missing persons case for nearly a year, leading some Latino community leaders to accuse the NYPD of racism.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne defended the department’s handling of the case, noting detectives checked homeless shelters and homes for battered women and interviewed two independent witnesses who said they saw de los Santos several weeks after Fuentes reported her missing.
But more than a year later on March 4, 2008 a group of teenagers found a suitcase full of human remains in Forest Park. Dental records showed they were de los Santos’ bones.
Fuentes’ neighbors and de los Santos’ co-workers told police the couple had a rocky relationship and said they had been involved in a loud argument the night of June 19.
One co-worker said Fuentes once choked de los Santos and told her he would kill her if she left him, the DA said. After de los Santos did not show up for work June 20 and Fuentes told the same co-worker she had run off, the co-worker entered Fuentes’ home and found de los Santos’ purse containing her citizenship papers, driver’s permit and work ID stuffed in a dresser, Brown said.
After being told de los Santos had left Fuentes, one of her relatives flew in from the Dominican Republic to start the search only to find Fuentes had allegedly removed all photos of de los Santos from the home, the DA’s office said.
Later, the relative described seeing fliers she had posted in the neighborhood urging residents to call police with any information had been covered up with new fliers that contained only a photo of the missing woman and Fuentes’ number, the DA said.
Police arrested Fuentes a few days after the bones were found on suspicion of hitting his 18-year-old stepson with a broom handle, but were unable to charge him with the murder.
When asked by the police if he thought he was going to get away with the murder, Fuentes allegedly told them, “I sure as hell am going to try,” Brown said.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.